By Kathi Bliss
Like most of the community, the Lockhart City Council has been stumped lately about the lack of development within the city of Lockhart. In an effort to try to shake something loose, Mayor Lew White suggested this week that the council consider waiving the city’s controversial impact fees, at least for a period of time, in an effort to build momentum toward growth.
Impact fees have long been a touchy subject in local circles. Supporters, including City Planner Dan Gibson insist that charging impact fees is the best way to ensure the funds are available to build additional infrastructure necessary to support growth. Detractors agree that infrastructure needs should be met, but believe that impact fees only serve to stifle growth, and that the City of Lockhart should reconsider their fee structures.
Perhaps hoping to split the difference, White asked the council during their regular meeting on Tuesday to consider the possibility of suspending impact fees, in the hopes that making such an offer would encourage area developers to start commercial and residential projects within the community.
“I’d like the council to keep in mind that we are similar, in many ways, to many other communities, but those communities are growing, and we aren’t,” he said. “We might need to take some risks and gambles to draw attention.”
The biggest gamble, several other councilmembers believed, is the possible affect reducing or suspending impact fees could have on the funds being collected to finance infrastructure projects. However, according to the most recent report generated by the Impact Fee Advisory Committee, the fund balance in the impact fee fund is significantly less than what would be required to complete any of the projects being considered through that fund.
City Manager Vance Rodgers informed the council on Tuesday that in the last two years, only eight new homes have been built in the community.
On a 5-2 vote, the Council voted on Tuesday to leave the impact fees as they are, but said they were open to revisiting the issue at another time.
In other business, the council voted unanimously to change the way the city bills certain customers for their utilities, effective in January.
The conversation started last month when some councilmembers asked Finance Director Jeff Hinson to explain and consider the city’s “budget billing” rules and procedures.
Under the existing “budget billing” procedure, the city bills utility customers who qualify a fixed amount each month, regardless of the total of their utility bill. At the end of the billing year, the customer is either due a credit, which will apply to their next year’s worth of billing, or forced to pay any outstanding balance in one payment.
A change to “average billing,” Hinson said, would allow customers the same benefit of budgeting the approximate amount for their bill, which would vary only a few dollars each month, regardless of usage, but which would take the average of usage over the course of 12 months, and be a consistently re-calculating average, based on monthly usage.
Though the council voted unanimously to make the change, Hinson must still prepare an ordinance to put the changes into action, and also asked for additional time to make sure that customers were aware of the changes, and how the different billing procedures would work.
The council expects to approve the ordinance during their next meeting, and the Post-Register will provide more specific information regarding the “average billing” program in future editions.
In brief news:
The council presented a proclamation declaring Dec. 4, 2012, “Bella Mercado Day” in Lockhart. Mercado was the state’s highest fundraiser for the St. Jude’s Walk last month.
They heard an update about the switchover from City of Lockhart EMS to the Seton Management Agreement, which will become effective at midnight on Dec. 31, 2012. According to Rodgers, all but one of the city’s current EMS employees have been offered positions under the Seton management agreement.
The city awarded a bid for employee benefits for the coming year to the Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Benefits Pool.
The Lockhart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Center at Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and are televised on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.